ANIMAL LOGIC AT THE MOULIN ROUGE
When you look at the fantasy that is Paris and the Moulin Rouge in Baz Luhrmann’s
eye popping romantic musical tragedy, you’re looking at virtual reality in the
service of cinema, reports Andrew L. Urban.
If Baz Luhrmann is the painter whose vision is painted onto the screen to
create the world of Moulin Rouge, Animal Logic is his paintbrush and his
palette. And more. In this intensley design driven musical, visual effects
design was critical to the film’s final realisation. It started out requiring
just 30 special effects shot - and ended up with over 300, the largest gig for
Animal Logic’s team.
“Baz Luhrmann’s imagination was as fired by the process itself as
anything else,” says Animal Logic Visual Effects Designer Andrew Brown, who
also worked on Jane Campion’s Holy Smoke, as well as The Fatal Shore and Mouse
Hunt. The variety of his credits reflect Animal Logic’s acceptance as part of
the global filmmaking community, after pioneering high end special effects work
for over a decade.
“It was exhilirating...”
For Moulin Rouge, Animal Logic Film also provided art directors, matt
painters and concept artists. Located on the Fox lot in central Sydney (with its
original base still operating across the Harbour Bridge on high end tv
commercials), Animal Logic showcases its wares on a new website -
www.animallogic.com - which demonstrates its strong ties to function-driven
concepts, with great flair - and a sense of playfulness and fun.
Moulin Rouge was fun, says Brown, in a big way. “It inspired us, it
inspired Baz Luhrmann and I think it will inspire others on how to use visual
effects. It was exhilirating . . .
“a believable fairy tale musical”
“We were still doing work at the end of February . . .Baz wanted as much
visual detail in every frame as possible and the biggest challenge of all was to
get him to lock down!” Brown says the process that energized Luhrmann also
energised the whole team. “He would come in every day and spend about half an
hour just going through his ideas for what the scene would be and involving
everyone. It was a very collaborative relationship. He treated us almost like
He also stretched them all; at no stage were the images in the film were to
look real, but they had to be believable. It was a believable fairy tale musical
that had to be imagined from a montage of Paris shots, which were than abandoned
as a fantasy Paris was created.
“the cultural hub of Paris”
Animal Logic’s Justen Marshall wrote a plug-in street map of Paris, for
example, which randomly generates buildings in the distance. The team also
created some unique particle animation for the Green Fairy sequence featuring
Luhrmann’s view was that Montmartre was the cultural hub of Paris and
everything outside that was inconsequential and boring. In fact, everything else
outside it was reduced to miniature, shot with motion control cameras.
To create the striking, nostalgically surreal opening shot over Paris, “the
front frame and mid-ground uses photos in a 3D environment, and beyond that we
built 3D model building, “ Brown explains. “We didn’t have much by way of
references to work with,” says Brown, “so one of our designers flew over to
Paris and took a bunch of collage shots, from the top of the Eifel Tower and the
top of Montparnasse.
This establishing wide shot, the Paris vista, carries within it one of the
driving design concepts that appeals to Luhrmann, which imagines a central axis
running through the frame. In this case, it runs between the Eifel Tower, the
Moulin Rouge and Sacre Coeur (which was being built at the time of the film’s
setting). This requires a slight rearrangement of the real Paris, but
considering the fantasy-driven nature of the whole musical, it would seem
churlish (not to mention pointless) to complain.
“The visual effects are a part of the
Animal Logic’s style of working had to adapt to this new, fluid style that
Luhrmann bought with him: “on The Matrix, everything was storyboarded and
mapped out,” Brown says. “But for this, the way baz works, you have to
finish something and show it to him, then he’ll throw it back with new
elements and ideas that twist it. The look and feel was never really a fixed
“The image feels like a postcard,” comments Brown, “until you push into
it visually...” Brown says the visual effects work on the live actors was
minimal; “we enhanced the diamond sparke around Nicole’s fabulous necklace
and we had to move a kissing couple into a different scene [background].”
The essential stylistic guide meant that everything had to be related to the
music “and it had to play to the rhythm of the film to the nth degree. But
after all,” Brown adds, “it is a musical and a love drama, with powerful,
uplifting music. The visual effects are a part of the jigsaw that give the film
its emotional impact.”
Published May 31, 2001